Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate Chip Shortbread with Dove Dark Chocolate

My food-pushing Aunty Tee introduced me to these cookies waaaaay back in 1997, when we were living in Oregon.  I have a hard copy of the original email where Aunty Tee sent me the recipe.  She had mailed us some delicious cookies for Christmas, and these Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies were in the mix.  By the time they got to us, they still tasted fresh, and were slightly crumbly around the edges, and the resulting crumbs created a sand-like coating around the rest of the cookie.  Their flavor reminds me of Pillsbury Sugar Cookies made from the dough in the tubes, but not when you only partially bake them.  They're crisp, like when you slice the tube o' dough quite thin and bake thoroughly.  Mmmmm...another happy flavor from my childhood.
The recipe only calls for a half cup of chocolate chips and a half cup of nuts.  That might not sound like enough, but the star of these cookies is the shortbread, not the chocolate or nuts.  If you're looking for a chocolate chip cookie that won't go stale after a day, I recommend these, or the Crisp Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies on this blog.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ¼ cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup chopped nuts
  • ½ cup chocolate chips, or, better yet, 10 Dove Dark Chocolate Promises, each chopped into sixteenths
· Preheat oven to 325°F.
· Cream butter and sugar.
· Add vanilla and egg. 
· Sift dry ingredients together and add to mixture.
· Stir in nuts and chocolate chips or Dove Dark Chocolate chunks.
· Drop tablespoon sized balls onto parchment-lined baking sheet (I used a cookie scoop), and press to flatten with a cookie stamp or bottom of glass dipped in flour or sugar. 
· Bake at 325°F for approximately 18 minutes.
· Remove to wire rack to cool.  Then store in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Cream Puffs

Simple Cream Puff
This recipe came from my food-pushing grandmother on my mom's side.  Whenever we would visit her and Grandpa in their home in the hills of Santa Cruz, California, she would knock herself out day and night cooking and baking up tasty treats.  I remember waking up in early in the morning to the sounds of Grandma clanking pots and pans and opening and closing the oven behind the wooden slider door that separated the kitchen from the living room where I slept on the sofa bed.  I would lie cozy under the covers, staring at the sparkly popcorn ceiling, listening to those noises, smelling the warm scent of Parkerhouse rolls emanating from that kitchen, and I would feel welcomed and loved.  I knew as soon as I stepped into that kitchen, Grandma would have a plateful of those rolls and a stick of butter waiting for me at the kitchen table.  I would sit next to Grandpa in his easy chair, and watch the morning news as I ate as many of those tender brown-on-the-outside-yellow-on-the-inside rolls as I wanted to.  God bless that woman for instilling in me a passion for baking as well as a passion for family.  
I'll have to post that Parkerhouse roll recipe soon, but for now, here is another of her love-filled recipes for a sweet treat that tastes deceptively light.

Cream Puffs


  • 1 pkg (3.4 oz) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 ¾ cups milk 
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Powdered sugar for garnish
1. Bring water and butter to a boil.  Add the flour all at once & stir vigorously until it forms a ball.  Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.
2.  When water-butter-flour mixture is cool, beat in eggs, one at a time, until smooth each time. Scrape into a gallon-size plastic storage bag.  Snip off about ½” of one corner to make a pastry bag. 
3.  Preheat oven to 450°F.  Chill the bowl and whisk attachment of a standing mixer, or other mixing bowl and beaters.
4.  Squeeze out blobs that are about 3 tablespoons worth of the paste onto two parchment-lined baking sheets.  (More paste for larger puffs, less for smaller puffs)  Blobs should be at least 2 inches apart.
5.  Bake at 450°F for 10 minutes—then turn oven down to 350°F for 15-20 minutes, or until well-puffed and light brown.
6.  Move puffs to wire racks.  Poke each one with a toothpick or a sharp knife to allow steam to escape.  Once cool, cut each puff horizontally in the middle.
7.  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together milk and pudding powder.  Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes or more.
8. Pour the heavy cream into the chilled mixer bowl.  Whip on high speed until almost stiff peaks form.   Then fold pudding into whipped cream. (Use 1/2 to all of the pudding, depending on how sweet you want your cream puffs to be.)  Do not over-mix.  Scrape about half of this mixture into a gallon size zip top bag.
9.  Snip about 1/2 inch off the tip of the zip top bag.  One puff at a time, open the top and squeeze in to fill the bottom, and top, if necessary, of the puff.  Return top to its puff.  
10.  Plate puffs and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Makes 12 large, 18 medium, or 24 small cream puffs. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Purple Cauliflower?!

Purple Cauliflower at HyVee

Oh my gosh!  I was at the Johntson (Iowa) HyVee this afternoon and I had to take a photo of this cauliflower display.  I haven't tried it yet, but I plan on getting some soon to put into my chicken egg rolls.
Apparently this purple cauliflower has the same antioxidants as red cabbage and red wine.  Hmmmm... yet another way to counteract the unhealthy aspects of my egg rolls.  More details to follow.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Popcorn Sizes/Homemade Popcorn

Popcorn in three sizes 2.
Popcorn in three sizes.

I can't believe anyone would need a recipe for homemade popcorn, but then again, I'm a person who just popped and photographed three different sizes of popcorn.  I guess it's odd enough that I even have three different types of popcorn in my house, but hey, I live in Iowa, right?
The large popcorn you see is what I bought from a Boy Scout.  It's probably over-priced, but it's for a good cause, and every kernel does pop, believe it or not.  It turns out light and crisp, and yummy with or without butter.
The mid-size popcorn is one I buy at the grocery store, and now I've forgotten the name, Aunt-something-or-another.  It's a delicate white popcorn that I discovered when I had some at a friend's house.  They sell it at most grocery stores around here, so that's what I buy.
The tiny popcorn was purchased at Scheels, which for those of you NOT familiar with Midwest sporting goods stores, is one of the largest sporting goods retailers out here.  The store is so big that they have a fudge shop in the middle of the store that sells lots of delicious things, including this popcorn, which is referred to as a "ladyfinger type," which I guess means it's tiny.  It's also "hulless" so you won't get those bits stuck in your tonsils (or is that just me?).  Come to think of it, I think that white mid-size popcorn is also hulless.  At any rate, these little guys are so cute and so tasty.  I just pop it in canola oil and salt it and it tastes like it's been buttered.  They're kind of hard to eat because they're so tiny they fall between your fingers, but if you can get your hands on some, they are worth a try.  The grocery stores around here often sell the "Tiny But Mighty" popcorn, which is almost as good as what I get from Scheels (Amish Country Popcorn Website).  It costs a little more, but it's too fun to resist.
If you've never tried to make popcorn on your stove, you ought to give it a try.  It's healthier for you than that microwave stuff, and it's way less expensive in the long run.


  • 2-3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • salt to taste
Place oil in a heavy bottomed two quart pot with a fitted lid.  Place one or two kernels of popcorn in the the oil.  Heat oil over medium-high heat until popcorn turns a lighter, almost white color.  Pour in remaining popcorn and cover with the lid.  You actually don't have to shake the pot the entire time, but you can if it makes you feel better.  When the popping starts to slow, then shake for sure.  When popcorn is only popping about one per second, it's time to remove from heat, uncover, and pour into a large bowl.  If you want butter, place the butter in the hot pan and swirl around until melted and pour evenly over popcorn.  Toss.  Salt a little at a time and taste to see if you need more.
Large, Medium, and Small popcorn in bowls.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

King Arthur Flour: The BEST Flour

King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour

*Note: If you've arrived at this post via a link within a recipe calling for King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, I want  you to know that you can use ANY all-purpose flour in most of those recipes, particularly cookie recipes. If you're going to be making any of the bread or pastry recipes, though, I highly recommend investing in a bag of King Arthur. Read on to see my rationale. 

I used to think that people who used King Arthur Flour (KAF) were rich snobs.  I mean, I've seen it priced as high as $6.99 for a five pound bag.  I have found it a couple of places for under $4.00, so it actually is affordable for me.  Even Cook's Illustrated recommends this flour, so I should have clued in sooner.  It wasn't until I moved to Iowa, though, and I started entering the Iowa State Fair food competitions that I even TRIED King Arthur Flour.  They have two King Arthur Flour competitions at the Iowa State Fair: Yeast Breads and Yeast Rolls.  You have to provide proof of purchase, so I bought the flour.  Up until then I had used Pillsbury Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and it worked fine for me, even when making things like soft pretzels and breads.
Once I started using the KAF, I started getting used to the results.  Then one time I saw Gold Medal Flour on sale at SuperTarget, and I bought some.  I was shocked when I tried to make soft pretzels with the Gold Medal Flour.  I couldn't even roll out the dough to form the pretzels because it kept breaking on me.  I got rid of the rest of THAT bag, and went back to the KAF.
Besides making breads with better texture and crumb,  the KAF, I think, adds a tenderness to everything else I bake, from cookies to croissants, to pizza crusts.  It really does just create a better product.
I'm not sure what they do to it to make it better, but just the flour itself seems to be milled a little finer and has a lighter feel to it than other flours right out of the bag.
If you've never tried it, just try it once with your favorite recipe calling for flour and see if you notice a difference.  It's an experiment worth two or three extra dollars.   Trust me.  I wouldn't lead you astray.  Not about this.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Make Those Feathery Lines on Nanaimo Bars

Pretty Nanaimo Bars
So, when people eat my Nanaimo Bars, they usually ask, "How did you get those fancy lines on there?"  I'm really not sure exactly where I learned how to do this (probably Food Network), but it's actually a very easy thing to do.  I'm hoping that the pictures I've taken and the description I'm giving explains it well enough.  If you want to do this, and my instructions are confusing, would you please leave me some feedback and I'll try to revise.  If you do try this and my instructions help you, I'd like to hear about that too.  (Have I mentioned I'm also a teacher in my normal life?)

To get the "feathered" design on top of Nanaimo bars, this is what you need to do: 

#1 Make a wax paper or parchment paper pastry cone (How to Fold a Parchment Pastry Cone).
Wax paper pastry cone
#2 Melt your chocolate in a double boiler.  Don't let the term "double boiler" freak you out if you've never used one.  I use a medium size pot half-filled with water, and then I place a metal bowl on top.  That's it.
My double boiler.

#3  Get the rest of your materials ready because once you get the chocolate melted, you want to be ready to spread the chocolate, make your white chocolate lines, and then drag the toothpick through.  
Before you put on the top chocolate layer, melt a small amount (2-3 teaspoons) of white or milk chocolate (I also add a few drops of canola oil).  Scrape melted white/milk chocolate into pastry cone that's resting inside an empty glass or cup to keep it from spilling.
Everything's ready to go.  Melted white chocolate is in pastry cone with top folded/rolled down.

 #4 Once you've spread the melted dark chocolate on top, snip off about 1/8 of an inch from the tip of the pastry cone.  
White chocolate filled pastry cone with tip snipped, ready to go.

#5 Pipe parallel lines about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart on top of chocolate.  I don't even make exact lines, I just sort of zig-zag.  If you get stray drips of white chocolate on the dark, that's okay, they'll add character to your finished product.
My imperfect zig-zag white chocolate lines.

#6 Take a toothpick and run it back and forth every 1/4 to 1/2 inch perpendicular to the lines you've piped.  You don't have to be too careful because it will turn out beautiful even if it's not "perfect."  
Four o'clock in the afternoon wasn't the best time to photograph this, but hopefully you get the idea.
#7  Be sure to refrigerate for about 10 minutes, or until chocolate is JUST set, and then cut.  If you cut before the chocolate is set, it won't be "cut."  If you cut after the chocolate is hard, you'll end up with ugly crackage.  Nobody wants that if they can avoid it.
This chocolate is not set.  Not ready to be cut.
Good luck!  Let me know how it turns out!

Monday, May 2, 2011


Snickerdoodles have to be one of the most underrated cookies out there.  Once you start eating them, though, you realize how lovable these plain Janes of the cookie world really are.  I like my snickerdoodles to be completely baked; none of that gooey half-baked business that's fine for some chocolate chip cookies.  No, I like my snickerdoodles to be somewhat puffed and chewy, while remaining distinctively crisp around the edges.  
This recipe is my favorite so far, and I've tried many.  I found it on the King Arthur Flour Website, but their recipe calls for cinnamon chips, which I think would change this simple beauty too much for me.  If you want to see their recipe, click here: KAF Superdoodle Recipe.

     --Adapted from

  • ½ cup vegetable shortening

  • ½ cup softened butter
  • 1 ½ cups white sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½  teaspoon salt

  • 2 ¾ cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

  • ½ cup sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Beat together the shortening, butter, and sugar till smooth, then add the eggs, again beating till smooth. Beat in the vanilla, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt, then add the flour, mixing slowly till combined. (Don’t overbeat.  And for the record, be sure to NEVER overbeat cookie dough.) Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.*
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Once dough is chilled, roll tablespoon-sized balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture in a shallow pan or bowl. You can coat 3-5 balls at a time.  Gently shake the pan/bowl to coat the dough balls with sugar. Place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving about 1 ½" between them.
Bake the cookies at 400°F for 10 to 11 minutes, or until puffed and browned around the edges. Remove the cookies from the oven, cool on the pan for about 3-5 minutes, and then cool them on a rack.
*At this point I also like to form the balls and place on a wax paper lined cookie sheet.  I freeze them on the pan, and once frozen, I transfer the frozen dough balls to a zip-top bag.  I roll the frozen dough balls in cinnamon sugar before baking the same way I bake them after being chilled.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies (I think)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kettle Corn

Rainbow Kettle Corn

Oh my gosh!  I was going to add a new pic to my kettle corn post, and I realized I have not yet posted that recipe!  Weird.  It's one of the easiest things to make.  It's so easy, I've made it more complicated by adding color to it.*
I believe kettle corn is yet another food I only discovered when living in a state other than California.  I first had it at the Oregon State Fair, I think, and here in Iowa it's sold at any fair-type event, of which there are LOTS here.  So, I see kettle corn quite a bit.
For those who've never had it, kettle corn tastes a little like that Corn Pops cereal, only fresher and more like popcorn.  It's not as sugary (or buttery) as a caramel corn, just a slight sweetness along with a contrasting saltiness.

Kettle Corn

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 3-4 tablespoons white sugar
  • canola oil for popping
  • salt to taste
In a heavy 5-quart pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels and sugar. Cover and shake until the popping is just about done. Don't leave it on for too long, or the sugar will burn and taste terrible. Pour into a metal or ceramic bowl (plastic will melt) and stir/toss until cool to the touch. Sprinkle with a little salt and stir/toss; taste and repeat until you like the level of saltiness.

*If you want colored kettle corn, I suggest you purchase some food color gel.  I like the Americolor brand because of its easy squeeze bottle.  For each color I squeezed in one large drop of gel right after putting in the sugar.  The water in the gel will make the oil spit, so it's best to put the sugar in first so it can absorb the gel.  Once you start shaking, the color gets evenly distributed.

Americolor Food Color Gel

Patriotic Kettle Corn

You can find more sweet treat pics and links at sweet-as-sugar-cookies-sweets-for-saturday.

Pella Tulip and Bakery Tour

Ezra & Max in front of Jaarsma Bakery in Pella, Iowa.
Ezra & Max humoring their Mom and posing in front of the tulips.

So, living in Iowa, I have the opportunity to experience the miracle of spring each year.  After bitter cold winters, spring really is a sign of new life and hope for me.  I never got that winter/spring analogy until I moved here.  In California where I grew up, it was always sort of spring--rarely super hot and rarely super cold.
Inside Vander Ploeg Bakery
 This is the second time I've made the drive (only an hour) to Pella, Iowa, to see the tulips.  And to sample the pastries.  As far as I can tell, there are two Dutch bakeries in the little town: Vander Ploeg & Jaarsma.  My friend Karla and I (and our boys) made sure to buy the goods from both bakeries so we could compare. Okay, it was all MY idea to do the comparing, but Karla, being the good friend that she is, went along with my zany idea.  She's such a giver.  
Pillow puff interior (blogspot isn't letting me place this pic where I want to)

Cream horn held by Karla's delicate hands.
Pillow puff held by my wrinkly hands.

We only compared two types of pastries on this trip, so as not to make ourselves completely sick.  Dutch letters and the cream pastries.  At Vander Ploeg, the cream pastry was a "cream horn," which is a spiraled puff pastry baked with coarse granulated sugar on top and then filled with a white cream that sort of reminded us of marshmallow fluff.  Quite tasty.  The Jaarsma version was called a "pillow puff" and was puff pastry with coarse sugar baked in a rectangular shape, sliced and then given a cream middle that tasted more like what we considered a traditional bakery frosting.  I think I liked the Jaarsma pillow puff better because the pastry seemed to be baked more thoroughly than the horn.  Both were delicious, though, of course.
The secret interior of the Dutch letter.

As far as Dutch letters go, I think Vander Ploeg was the winner for Karla, because it had the coarse sugar on top, but I preferred the Jaarsma because they used regular sized granulated sugar on top of theirs.  I plan on trying to bake some Dutch letters and post them in the near future, but for now, I just have the one pic of the half-eaten letter from Jaarsma. (Update: Here's the recipe for the Jaarsma's Dutch letters. You just have to click on the words there to get to the recipe, by the way. Enjoy.)
If you're ever in Iowa in early May, you really must make the trip to Pella.  It's quite a nice cultural excursion.
Inside Jaarsma Bakery, on the gift shop side

Some of the prepackaged baked goods at Jaarsma

Another shot of the Vander Ploeg Bakery case

Ezra enjoying a cheese stick from Jaarsma's Bakery

A simple glazed donut from Vander Ploeg's Bakery.  So soft and only slightly sweet.  Good.

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